The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Issue no. 1156 — June 20 - July 18, 2022

January 6th Hearing Is One More Distraction

Jun 20, 2022

The news channels dominated by Democrats are filled with coverage of the ongoing January 6 House Committee hearings, while Fox News and others still try to defend Trump.

The Dems don’t even pretend that Trump will be prosecuted for any of his actions. They just want to prevent his return to the White House. Well, okay, but we have now had nearly two years of Biden in office, and all of our problems continue to worsen!

Where are the hearings to address the soaring gas and food prices? Where are the hearings to address the gutting of 401(k) and pension plans caused by the falling stock market? Or to address the fall in workers’ wages caused by rampaging inflation? Or to truly confront the pandemic, which still harms a public ill-served by an inadequate health care system?

The only thing elections offer us is a switch between Democrats and Republicans, while the problems confronting working people are never addressed. The only thing that the party out of power offers working people is the chance to vote them into power in the next election—and then nothing changes, and the cycle reverses, repeating over and over.

Many workers have come to understand that voting to replace one party by another does nothing at all for the working population. In fact, most workers don’t vote in the elections anymore.

But still, most workers feel that the elected politicians should represent us, should fix some damn thing, and not just the roads. But guess what. They won’t. Because all of these politicians of the Democrats and Republicans work within parties that put the profits of the capitalists first. Even those politicians who appear more concerned finally, in the end, bow to capitalism and the big bosses and banks because, “that’s the way the system works.” Regardless of how sorry they feel about it, they represent the capitalist class, and their job is to protect the system that prioritizes profits for the rich at the expense of our lives and livelihoods.

In this current economy, workers are in the process of getting really messed over. Every so-called solution the bosses and bankers have come up with for the mess they created just makes thing worse.

Inflation? Their solution is to choke back the economy by raising interest rates and knowingly throwing us into a recession. They say, “Oh well, there will be layoffs due to overproduction, there will be misery, but oh well.”

Retirement savings are being hit in the neck as billionaires maneuver the stock market and bond market and play the field for the best deal—for them! Many workers don’t have pensions today, but only 401(k)s or IRAs. But now, all of these funds are sinking, sinking with Wall Street billionaires’ plans to protect, not your future, but their profits!

The main indicators of a so-called “healthy economy” are in the tank. Housing starts are down: housing prices have skyrocketed. And cars? Forget about that new car you wanted to buy. They are pricing cars out of the range of ordinary workers, so that today, a used car costs what a new one used to.

Last but not least, the current inflation is robbing us. Forget buying a car—we can’t even fill the tank with gas. And while prices skyrocket, wages stagnate. Workers, who are already in debt, will be pushed even further in. The debt we already have will cost increasingly high monthly payments.

Wait for a politician? Wait for a November election? Trade a Democrat for a Republican? We don’t have time for that! The only way out of this mess is for workers to organize and fight.

The working class is in position to force changes to the bosses’ plans. We are at the center of production. We do the work to make everything run, and we can use our power to make everything stop.

We have the power to impose our own solutions on the bosses. We need massive hiring, so that everyone who needs and wants a job can have one. We need good wages, and for those wages to be raised every time prices rise. We need decent working conditions, and a humane retirement age AND retirement income. We need decent health care for everyone. And much, much more.

And if the bosses don’t want to go along, let them leave! Push them out! And screw the banks! If they take one more step to impoverish the majority of the population, they can be “reassigned”; put under new management by organizations of the working class.

The working class has the power to take control of this society and to build a system that serves the working population—and that workers ourselves would control. But only when we organize and fight together, rejecting not just one politician or another, but the capitalist system as a whole and its political parties.

Pages 2-3

Making Workers Pay for the Bosses’ Financial Crisis

Jun 20, 2022

When the Federal Reserve announced that it was hiking interest rates and tightening credit in order to “fight” inflation, this led to plunging stock market prices and sudden big interest rate hikes on all kinds of loans. In different ways, these chaotic gyrations in the financial system directly impact the livelihoods of the entire working population in this country.

Retirement Savings

The drop in the stock market has already erased three trillion dollars in individual retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs, since the beginning of the year. Few employers provide regular pensions anymore. So, outside of Social Security, these retirement accounts are the main way workers are supposed to save for retirement. No employers actually pay workers enough to save for retirement. Instead, the bosses and news media present investing workers savings in the stock market as a sure-fire way to increase what little they manage to accumulate. In fact, individual retirement accounts are nothing but a bonanza for Wall Street. Financial companies swallow up a lot of whatever hard-earned money workers set aside through big fees and commissions. Whether investments go up or down, the “house” takes its cut. The plunge in stock prices is taking the rest.

Public sector workers who still have pension benefits, from teachers to fire fighters, could also get hit by plunging stock market prices. Currently, more than 60% of the money in public pension funds is invested in the stock market. Rather than actually funding pension benefits, politicians and officials at cities, states, counties and various other public agencies and boards, push those funds to rely on the increase in stock prices, as well as the rise in the price of other speculative markets, from real estate to junk bonds, to get most of their funding. So, those retirement plans are based on big speculative gambles. These too are huge cash cows for big Wall Street companies. A falling stock market has already led those pension plans to shrink by close to 20%, putting those funds in danger, as well.

Jobs

The sharp rise in interest rates is the first step on the road to recession and mass lay-offs. From home construction to the manufacturing of big-ticket consumer items, such as autos and trucks, companies rely on consumers getting big loans with low interest rates to buy their products. But relatively cheap financing has now dried up. Since the beginning of the year, mortgage rates for home buyers have nearly doubled. As a result, the real cost to buy a house has officially spiked over 50% in just six months. This has led to a sudden drop in home sales, as well as a sharp drop in the construction of homes and multi-family dwellings.

A similar trend may soon begin in the auto industry. Before the big increase in interest rates, the average amount paid for a new car or truck was more than $45,000 and the average car payment ran about $650 per month over six years. Now, a shortage in cars may soon turn into a glut, as big increases in interest rates and finance charges will put payments out of reach of more consumers. Car company executives have already announced that they are planning for production and employment cutbacks. (As GM and Ford executives recently told the Wall Street Journal, they are “modeling the outcomes of different recessionary scenarios”).

Housing and auto production are still the two bellwethers of the U.S. economy, since they are tied to a vast network of contractors, suppliers, and retailers. Once production cutbacks and layoffs hit those sectors, the layoffs will spread throughout the economy.

Interest rate hikes will also hit the corporate sector in a big way. Corporations have feasted on low interest rates to build up a record ten trillion dollars in debt (about one-third of the size of the entire U.S. economy, or GDP). This debt was not used to fund productive investment, but to increase their payouts to their biggest investors, the capitalist class, through stock buybacks and dividends. One result is that an estimated 20% of the biggest 3,000 companies in the U.S. are considered “zombies”. Zombie companies are so highly in debt, they are only able to stay in business due to relatively cheap loans and ready credit. Higher interest rates, more expensive debt may soon force these companies over the edge… leading to more mass layoffs and economic convulsions.

Debt Slavery

The rise in interest rates will obviously hit consumers, who have historically taken out a huge amount of debt just to make ends meet. During the pandemic, consumer debt actually went down, as consumers stayed home, while they got government aid. But when inflation came roaring back last year, consumers began to pay more for everything, from groceries to gasoline, and household income did not keep up, leading to more hunger and a big increase in the number of people relying on food banks. Many relied on their credit cards to pay their bills, and credit card balances increased by $52 billion to a total of $860 billion in the last three months of 2021, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s the largest increase in the 22-year history of that data. That will only get worse. As interest rates rise, working people are forced to devote more of their income just to make the payment on their various interest and finance charges.

An Ongoing Depression

No, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes are not “fixing” the economy. They are only one more step in an ongoing, slow-motion depression that has lasted for close to half a century, dating back to the early 1970s. This crisis is not due to the supposedly “wrong” policies of the Federal Reserve, or the U.S. government and its politicians. It is due to the very inner workings of capitalism, a system in which the entire economy and society is under the control and run in the interests of a tiny minority of capitalists, who are only out to get ever richer and accumulate more power.

This latest crisis is one more proof that this system should have been done away with a long time ago. But that can only be accomplished by a revolution of the only class in society that has the power and the interests to run the economy in the interests of the entire population: the international working class.

The January 6th Hearings:
The Forget-Inflation-Now Hearings

Jun 20, 2022

The January 6th hearings are political theatre put on by the Democrats to change the topic from the pain and agony at the gas pump and grocery store and rent and everything else we need to live. The Democrats may also hope to win some votes in November. It is the new “As the World Turns,” the great American soap opera. And what have we learned? That Trump knew he lost the election and lied about it and that he threw Mike Pence under the bus? No kidding. And exactly how does this help us? Are they going to indict Trump? No.

The Democrats are also using the hearings to cover-up their responsibility in what happened on January 6th. Everyone knows when there is a demonstration the police are out in force, in riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets at the ready, especially a demonstration in Washington, D.C. and on the grounds of the Capitol building no less. The National Guard has been called out for demonstrations, army snipers on rooftops. Where were they? Just a handful of totally outnumbered Capitol police to defend Congress and the Vice President! Really? The Democrats brought all the fire power in after the riot was over. The National Guard was there for months—after the fact.

No. These hearings will change nothing. They aren’t even good enough to take our minds off how much everything costs. Hell, we can’t even afford popcorn and Goobers while we watch the show.

Millions Can’t Vote

Jun 20, 2022

Again and again, Trump and the Republicans have claimed that people who are not eligible have been voting. In fact, every investigation has found those claims to be false. But they highlight that huge numbers of people living and working in this country lack the right to vote. And in fact, neither party actually proposes to give everyone here the same legal rights, including the right to vote.

There are about 13 million legal residents in this country, who are not citizens and thus cannot vote, even when they have been here for decades. Then there are about 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. Add to that about 5.2 million people as of the 2020 election who could not vote because of a felony conviction. Not to mention over 3 million people who live in Puerto Rico and the other U.S. “territories” like Guam and Samoa who can’t vote for president, and don’t have voting members of Congress.

These millions of non-voters still pay all kinds of taxes—anyone heard of “taxation without representation?”

The vast majority are workers, part of our class. Keeping them from voting is just one of the many ways this so-called democracy makes sure the workers’ voice is not heard.

Pages 4-5

California Businesses Don’t Pay Taxes

Jun 20, 2022

According to the State of California, after the pandemic started, California borrowed $20 billion from the Federal Government to pay for unemployment benefits. As CalMatters.org reported, this unemployment-related debt is as much as that of all other 49 states combined. The main reason is that California businesses pay very, very low unemployment taxes.

California businesses pay a tax on only the first $7,000 a worker earns each year for unemployment insurance. This is a flat tax, amounting to only $5.67 per week for each worker for unemployment insurance. This tax is so low because the California politicians and officials, which serve these businesses, designed it as such.

Because it is a flat tax, a company that employs a very low-wage part-time worker making, for example, $7,000 per year and a vice president or a senior engineer making $200,000 per year pay the same unemployment tax for both employees each year.

Most other states also have a flat tax for the unemployment benefits, but their base wage is much higher. For example, the state of Washington taxes businesses for the first $56,500 yearly earnings of each employee. Oregon’s taxable wage base is $43,800, and North Dakota and Utah both have tax bases over $38,000.

Not surprisingly, California’s unemployment benefits are extremely low, capped at $450 per week, with the average weekly benefit paid out in California in 2021 amounting to less than $330. Considering California’s very high costs of housing, rent, and living expenses, the unemployed workers cannot survive on this meager payment.

This miserable unemployment benefit is nothing to what the biggest and wealthiest companies of this world, which are located in California, and their shareholders profit from their low-wage workers’ long hours of hard work. But they do not want to pay more unemployment insurance because this is how they get richer.

These richest companies in the world also considerably decreased the corporate income tax they paid from only 9.5% in the early 1980s to less than 4.2% today. So, they take many bites from the same apple.

It’s not hard to see why some of the most profitable and biggest companies and wealthiest people in this world reside in California.

Chicago Housing—Handouts to the Rich

Jun 20, 2022

Memorial Day weekend of this year, Jeannette Taylor, a mother on Chicago’s South Side, received notice from the Chicago Housing Authority that her application for a housing voucher was accepted. She first applied for a housing voucher 29 years ago, in 1993! Almost thirty years later, Taylor is now the alderperson for Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood: she no longer needs the voucher. Despite waiting nearly three decades, she was told she had only a week to accept CHA’s offer.

Taylor was one of 30,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing. Rent in Chicago has gone up significantly in recent years. The average apartment, with two bedrooms, is $2,000—out of reach for many working class residents. There is a big shortage of affordable apartments.

The problem was made worse by the city. Twenty years ago, Mayor Daley implemented the Plan for Transformation, which knocked down much of the city’s public housing. The “Plan” was to replace that housing with new, mixed-income developments. Of course, very little of this was built. For example, the plan called for 3,000 new or “revitalized” units at the ABLA homes on the Near West Side. Developer Related Midwest got a contract to build 2441 of those. More than fifteen years later, fewer than half of the promised units have been built.

CHA is supposed to house Chicagoans, which they are not doing. But one thing they are taking care of is the Chicago Fire soccer team, owned by a local billionaire. CHA has agreed to lease a very large property and 25-acre empty field that used to be home to several thousand before the Plan for Transformation.

That’s how the CHA works—giving contracts to big developers, signing leases with sports teams. Anything to put money into the pockets of the wealthy. And almost nothing to house working class Chicagoans.

Ocean City, Maryland:
Unaffordable for Summer Workers

Jun 20, 2022

Ocean City—Maryland’s leading beach town, which swells from a population of 7,000 to as many as 300,000 during the summer—is in a crisis. Before the pandemic, the town would attract as many as 15,000 workers for temporary summer jobs, more than a quarter being foreign students on temporary work visas. But this year employers expect only a fraction of the number needed will show up.

The main problem is the lack of housing they can afford. Local landlords used to provide temporary worker housing for around $500 or $600 a month. But during the pandemic they converted these apartments to temporary tourist housing like AirBnB at much higher tourist rates—five or six times higher! So, workers can’t afford at all to live and work in Ocean City.

The answer, proposed by town officials? They want the state to help developers borrow money tax-free to build barracks—oops, dormitories—for temporary workers. No tourists allowed! Officials also promise the developers property tax breaks.

It’s no surprise. What supports the relaxing “salt life” on the coast is the low-paid and highly-exploited work of mostly young people, subsidized by the public—in other words, by the working class.

California Heads into Wildfire Season with Fewer Firefighters

Jun 20, 2022

About 10% of the firefighters working for Cal Fire, California’s firefighting agency, quit their jobs last year. That’s 10% of Cal Fire’s permanent work force, not including firefighters hired temporarily for the peak wildfire season. (Cal Fire’s permanent and seasonal workforce together numbers more than 9,000.)

These firefighters are leaving Cal Fire mainly because of the enormous stress and exhaustion their job causes, without time to relax. California firefighters not only face big, life-threatening wildfires, but they also face very harsh working conditions. They are on 21-day shifts, working 72 hours a week. In comparison, firefighters working for the federal government’s Forest Service work 14-day shifts.

The firefighters’ union, Cal Fire Local 2881, filed a claim with Cal OSHA and the Labor Workforce Development Agency in February, stating: “Employees have been known to work 30 days or more without any time off due to forced overtime, and the most egregious cases include employees on duty for 49 days or more straight without a day off.”

Yet, when the firefighters’ union requested that state regulators investigate the unsafe working conditions at Cal Fire, Cal OSHA rejected the request, saying that there are “no workplace standards for overtime,” and that it is “not illegal” for employers to make employees work long hours as long as they are compensated!

California not only understaffs its firefighters, but it underpays them as well. The wages of firefighters can be as low as $13–14 per hour on average, based on how Cal Fire classifies a firefighter, according to the website Glassdoor.

Things are even worse at the federal level. The U.S. Forest Service, which also provides firefighters for wildfires, recently announced that only about 62% of its 4,240 positions in California are filled. In addition, about one third of Forest Service’s fire engines cannot be operated more than five days a week because of a lack of crew members. The reasons are the same: dangerous and grueling work, stress, and low pay. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill last year promised a sizeable pay increase for federal firefighters but, more than six months after the bill was signed into law, firefighters are still waiting for the promised raise!

So, on both the state and federal level, the force to fight the fires is more depleted than ever.

Over the last ten years, the number of wildfires in California has dramatically increased, along with their intensity and destructiveness. 2020 was the worst, breaking all kinds of records. It scorched more than four million acres across the state, double the previous record. Five of California’s six largest fires in modern history burned at the same time. 2021 was hardly better. A total of 8,835 fires were recorded, burning 2,568,948 acres across the state. These fires have taken an enormous toll in destruction and human life. And this year, in the middle of a severe, ongoing drought, experts are predicting another record-breaking fire season.

But it’s obvious that politicians who run the government, both at the state and federal level, will not put the taxpayer money they control where their mouth is. To entrust the safety and well-being of the society to them is to put our, and our children’s, future at grave risk.

Baltimore:
Librarians Turn a Union Page

Jun 20, 2022

Workers at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt public library system announced a union drive in early June. Already 300 of 520 workers had signed on during more than a year of organizing, including security guards, custodians, book binders, circulation staff, artists, and tech and maintenance workers.

In the libraries, chronic understaffing means hundreds of positions stay vacant, and library staff is overworked. Management makes workers do the jobs of multiple people and tells part time workers to do extra hours without overtime.

On a recent hot day, five of the branch libraries were closed because of not having working air conditioning. Obviously, the system should hire more maintenance. Even during the last economic recovery, the libraries had a long hiring freeze causing 10 to 20% of positions to be vacant.

The workers are right to organize.

Washington, D.C.:
Cash from Clunkers

Jun 20, 2022

Washington, D.C. is probably the nation’s capital of using traffic cameras and parking tickets to take money from people. The city’s more than 130 traffic cameras are expected to collect more than 100 million dollars this year. This includes a stop sign camera that raked in 1.3 million dollars in two years, at $100 per citation. And the city plans to double the number of traffic cameras! As for parking, tickets issued on one street alone last fall brought in almost one million dollars.

Over half a million vehicles in the city and the suburbs are liable to be booted for unpaid city fines. Boots are not removed until fines are paid. The city plans to triple the number of workers in its vehicle booting division—another money maker!

Are they increasing the number of teachers or social service workers? No! That doesn’t make any money.

Pages 6-7

Russia:
War and Ordinary Russians

Jun 20, 2022

This article is translated from the June 17 issue, #2811 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Russia’s president just signed a law modifying the terms for paying pensions to non-Russian workers from the Confederation of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of several former Soviet republics since 1991.

These retirees are qualified as migrants. They are no longer entitled to a pension in Russia, except if their home country has a specific agreement with Russia.

CIS countries remain linked to Russia, but they seized the opportunity of the war in Ukraine to distance themselves further from the Kremlin. In retaliation, Moscow attacked their nationals who worked in Russia.

Russia’s rulers have not only a political and diplomatic interest in this reform, but also an economic interest. Russia’s budget will save more than 220 million dollars.

But undoubtedly this law matters most to Vladimir Putin on the social level. He wants to persuade Russian people that only he defends them from widespread hostility, even in the “foreign but nearby” other former Soviet republics. By playing the nationalist card, the Kremlin wants Russian people to forget everything that opposes them to the government and its wealthy elite. The rich are quite interested now in dividing workers among themselves, whether by their passport or by their origin. In recent months some social conflicts arose where migrant workers were at the forefront, for example in Siberia, in the Far East, and in the oilfields.

Peter the Great … and Tiny Paychecks

Putin exalts the memory of Emperor Peter the Great, whose 350th anniversary he celebrated with great fanfare, especially his military victory over Sweden. Putin knows his “special operation” in Ukraine is not popular.

If not, why block local media from publishing the list of soldiers killed in Ukraine? Supposedly this would violate the secrecy of the army’s losses. Apparently, it is very necessary to protect the state secret that these losses are heavy. But everyone knows it, even without having precise figures.

And no censorship can prevent everyone from seeing prices soar since the war started. Food and basic necessities rose from 30 to 50%. Russian yogurt and laundry detergent, 70% and higher. Meanwhile wages are not rising. If anything, they are falling because of unemployment.

In industry, auto factories are fully or partially shut down. AvtoVaz is a former subsidiary of French automaker Renault, which sold it to the Russian government for one euro while reserving the option to buy it back. It cornered a third of the Russian vehicle market. Because of Western sanctions, AvtoVaz can no longer release its Duster and can only produce other models without anti-lock brakes or on-board computers, and so on. This lack of equipment likely won’t interfere with relaunching the old Moskvitch model which AvtoVaz stopped producing more than 20 years ago, exactly because it was so technologically primitive! But all this enterprise’s announcements and patriotic bluffing won’t bring back jobs and wages for the tens of thousands of laid off workers and technicians in Moscow and factory town Togliatti.

The enterprise continues to pay salaries and unemployment benefits at the old rate. But for how long? Already some workers had to find other jobs. Others relocated to the countryside because they can no longer pay rent in a big city.

Western automakers and suppliers had settled in Kaluga, around 120 miles south of Moscow. But in Kaluga Volkswagen is down. The firm pays unemployment benefits, but according to the “independent” trade union MPRA, it does not plan any production in 2022. Volkswagen announced it would close its workshops at GAZ, the giant factory in the center of Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow. VW offers five or six months’ wages to anyone who “voluntarily” quits.

In Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, the Avtotor (BMW) factory has only worked two weeks since the war started. It produces spare parts for old models. Nobody knows what will happen, but management offered workers, by way of compensation, to go and harvest potatoes and berries this summer!

In Moscow the construction industry used to employ many workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Now there are more and more “white” faces on construction sites. They are migrants from within Russia. Deprived of employment in their region, they are trying their luck in the capital.

Another effect of Western sanctions: in Tikhvin near Leningrad, a wagon-building factory had to stop running for lack of bearings. The country does not produce enough. But to compensate for the situation, the factory will retool for military production. The authorities often put forward this solution. Given the prolonged war and material losses in Ukraine, weapons-system production is on fire.

Unpaid Wages … and Protests

It also seems that the instances of companies simply not paying wages, or paying them after long delays, are increasing. This might explain the rise in “protest actions,” in other words strikes, since the beginning of June.

With the declaration of something like martial law around the end of February, the number of published strikes fell sharply. But the first three days of June saw as many strikes as happened in all of March. One of the most important strikes, including a demonstration, took place in a mining company in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia.

As far as one can tell from a few examples, discontent exists even in the army. A video is circulating which shows dozens of workers such as miners and teachers from Donbass who were enlisted in the forces of the separatist republic of Lugansk. They demonstrated against their orders and refused to go and fight outside the region. Their families publicly supported them. And apparently almost half of those fighting in the first period of this war refused to re-enlist for another deployment.

In Russia’s countryside and its big cities there are slogans and graffiti on the walls: “No to war!” Despite heavy punishments and much publicity by the authorities about having disciplined thousands of protesters, Putin and his regime have apparently failed to bring everyone into line.

Military Budgets, a Hellish Machine

Jun 20, 2022

This article is translated from the June 10 issue #2810 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

In May the government of Spain announced the doubling of its military budget. The Belgian Defense Minister promised the same in the coming years. The same day, the German parliament authorized the government to borrow 50 to 100 billion euros to increase the military budget.

Overall, higher military expenses worldwide are expected to total more than 2 trillion dollars. The United States, leader of imperialism and policeman of the world, is in the lead with 801 billion, followed if not very closely by China with 293 billion and Russia, smaller yet, with 66 billion.

As contractors endlessly produce warships and submarines, diplomatic services promise new alliances while writing alarmist reports. The French government predicts the renewal of “high intensity” wars, meaning wars involving two countries or alliances with equal forces, which can trigger a global explosion. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs described how nations bordering the Mediterranean are rearming and listed the very many points of friction likely to lead to new conflicts.

The same thing happens in the Pacific, but on a much larger scale—specifically in the China Sea. Japan has doubled its military budget. China is building an aircraft carrier and is laying claim to various islands and fortifying them. The American fleet, with its overwhelming power, constantly cruises around, occasionally accompanied by French or British ships. President Biden drove the point home on May 22, declaring that the United States would intervene in the event of a Chinese operation in Taiwan. China responded on May 30 by flying fighter jets over the island.

This explosion of military budgets and tensions is manna for arms dealers. The French Ministry of Defense prides itself on promising 39 billion euros in orders for big business in 2022. The military also announces it would hire 400 people for its export assistance service. In each imperialist country, the army is simultaneously the main customer of the military industry, its main lender, and its best sales representative.

But war does not just mean rising stock prices for Thales, Dassault, or their American and British competitors. War is the daily lived experience of humanity, from Afghanistan to Yemen, from Iraq to Sudan. And now in Ukraine. At the cost of the systematic destruction of entire regions, that conflict is really a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. It amplifies the chaos of the world economy and the uncertainty of capitalists’ plans. It pushes the governments to increase their military expenditures even more. War guarantees fast, immediate profits and is a life insurance policy for the capitalist class, in the event that heightened competition leads to war—or, worse for capitalists, in the event of popular unrest. Cannons are still the last argument of kings, even those without crowns.

Brazil:
Another Police Massacre in a Favela

Jun 20, 2022

This article is translated from the June 10 issue #2810 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Rio de Janeiro police carried out a new massacre on May 24, only one year after killing 28 people in the northern favela of Jacarezinho. This time it was neighboring Vila Cruzeiro, assaulted from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sinister uniformed police shock battalion BOPE, federal police, and traffic police were all sent in, backed by armored vehicles and combat helicopters. The operation left 25 people dead, all labeled as drug traffickers by the police, although half were unknown to the cops.

Vila Cruzeiro is one of the thirteen favelas (unofficially settled neighborhoods) of the Rocher complex. It has 70,000 inhabitants, but 200,000 people were affected in the surrounding area. Schools, clinics, and businesses had to close during the fighting. This was the fourth police operation against Vila Cruzeiro in a year. A police attack in February killed nine people.

Favelas are working class neighborhoods, meaning mostly black. They grow along the borders of cities, in areas that cannot be built on or are not serviced. The people who live there are workers who cannot afford to live downtown. People build dwellings there, but without building permits or title deeds, without a water or sewer system, and without paved streets. The government is not present there, and they run it themselves. But most favelas are ruled by force by mafias—drug gangs taking shelter there, or else militias headed by cops, which take the place of gangs and are usually left undisturbed by the police.

The pretext for the May 24 operation was specifically to attack the Red Commando, the main mafia group in Rio de Janeiro. But ordinary people are the victims of these clashes between thugs and cops. The cops treat ordinary people just like the thugs do: looting, raping, and murdering. In Vila Cruzeiro, the police did not arrest a single criminal. Cops seized a few rifles and pistols, but far fewer than during a polite search of a condominium in the chic Barra district, where President Jair Bolsonaro lives.

In fact, these police operations have a political purpose: namely, to show the rich, white electorate of the president and of the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro that they are protected from delinquents, homeless people, black people, and poor people. The police have a free hand in dealing with ordinary people. The authorities cover up all their transgressions. Bolsonaro even congratulated the police for the Vila Cruzeiro massacre. The Rio governor, who is a member of Bolsonaro’s party, has only been in office for a year. But he is already responsible for 39 massacres that left 181 dead.

General elections for the president, governors, senators, and congresspeople will take place in October. For the presidency, former president Lula will challenge Bolsonaro. The incumbent is a scheming military veteran and weapons maniac who waxes nostalgic for the old days of the military dictatorship (1964–1985). This latest massacre on May 24 shows the true face of the extreme right, which has governed the country for four years.

Pages 8-9

Medical Debt:
Your Money or Your Life!

Jun 20, 2022

Sick and injured people who recently required life-saving care at hospitals are being taken to court and sued.

Journalists at Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio investigated and found that 41% of adults, a whopping 100 million people, are suffering under the weight of medical debt.

They gathered their information through a nationwide investigation. They discovered the situation is horrendous and are trying to shine a spotlight on it.

A young husband they interviewed was taken to court for a 10,000-dollar debt after he had to have his leg amputated. To settle with the court, this newly disabled man’s wife drained her retirement account and had to work three jobs.

Reporters learned that half of U.S. adults have gone into debt during the past five years because of medical or dental bills. The most horrifying aspect of medical debt is that it is blocking people from needed care. In the healthcare world, a life can be saved if a condition is caught early. If there is a long delay in diagnosis, treatment may be more expensive. Or the problem can be too far along for successful treatment.

In one case highlighted by reporters, a young father who sells health insurance had an infection. He was not up-to-date on paying whatever he owed to his doctor, so he was denied care at the doctor’s office. He ended up at the hospital and now owes 50,000 dollars.

Of the 100 million people with medical debt, two thirds or 66 million people are holding off on medical care they or a family member need because of cost.

When the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, it was sold as a solution to the problem of death caused by lack of health insurance. IF some DEATH may have been prevented by this law, DEBT surely was not prevented. The very title –Affordable Care Act—left the population unprepared for the tidal wave of medical debt that was to come, despite having health insurance.

The law, guided through Congress by a health insurance industry insider, made high deductibles the new normal. The law, looking out for the financial interests of health insurance companies, shifted costs off of insurance companies and onto patients. This happened through expensive deductibles and copay costs.

Of those with medical debt, over half are insured.

The credit card industry is profiting from all of this debt. The research firm IBISworld found profits of as much as 29% being made by credit card companies on medical debt. At one time, publicly funded university hospitals and nonprofit hospitals would work out payment arrangements or forgive some low-income debt. Now, to make a quick buck, hospitals more and more “sell their debt” to shadowy collections companies that hound the patients for money.

One rape victim was illegally charged 130 dollars for a medical exam she received after a sexual assault. She was then hounded for years by debt collectors. She said she would often break down in tears on the phone. “I was being haunted by this zombie bill. I couldn’t make it stop.”

In March of 2022, major credit card companies said they would remove medical debt from credit card reports. What got less news coverage was that only debts under 500 dollars would be removed!

The average U.S. worker pays more for healthcare each year than in any other high-income country. Every human faces the risk of serious illness. In our profit-driven healthcare system, when illness strikes, money is made off of human suffering by hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other healthcare companies. And if medical debt piles up, money is then made by credit card companies and shadowy debt collection companies.

Healthcare should be a human right—free of charge, excellent in quality, performed by well paid healthcare workers. In the richest country in the world, it is the bare minimum of what should be provided!

Uterine Cancer on the Rise in the U.S.

Jun 20, 2022

Cancer of the uterus is becoming a greater health problem in the U.S., both in terms of the number of cases and the number of deaths. Public health experts expect that by 2040, uterine cancer will become the third most common cancer and the fourth leading cause of deaths from cancer among women.

Cancer, as with most diseases, is not simply the result of individual behaviors or individual exposures. It is a social problem. While uterine cancer is on the rise for women in general, it is more common among black women than among white women and is even more likely to be deadly among black women.

A recent study by Dr. Megan Clarke of the National Cancer Institute found that while black women make up about 13% of all women in the U.S., they made up 18% of deaths from uterine cancer from 2000 to 2017. The difference in death rates is even greater with age. Among women 40 years and older, the death rate for black women is 31 per 100,000 compared to 15 per 100,000 for white women.

Public health experts are still trying to determine the reasons for the increase in rates of uterine cancer and for disparities by race. Increases in obesity likely contribute to the increase, but one type of uterine cancer that is not linked with obesity, non-endometrioid cancer, is also on the rise. Non-endometrioid is both more deadly and more common among black women.

Black women are more likely to die from uterine cancer both because they have less access to medical care and are less likely to receive the most effective treatments even when they do get treatment. Women who had no health insurance have found that doctors were more likely to dismiss their complaints as unrelated to cancer.

For now, one of the most effective treatments for uterine cancer is a complete hysterectomy, and black women are less likely to receive one. Doctors are also less likely to properly take biopsies of the lymph nodes of black women with uterine cancer than of white women, which is how they check whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. In addition, they are less likely to administer chemotherapy to black women.

Ultrasound to measure the thickness of the uterine wall is one method doctors used to diagnose uterine cancer. But ultrasound is less accurate with non-endometrioid cancers and when women have uterine fibroids, both of which are more common among black women. If doctors don’t observe a thickening of the uterine wall, they are less likely to take a biopsy that would allow them to detect the cancer at an early stage.

Another reason for the increase in uterine cancers is that many women are not aware of the danger or the signs to look for. Abnormal bleeding is one common symptom. But women who have not reached menopause, but experience erratic menstrual cycles, are less likely to get checked for uterine cancer than are women who are close to reaching menopause. Some women dismiss unusual bleeding as simply a symptom of menopause.

Some of the disparities experienced by black women are probably likely also experienced among poor and working class white women, but class is not very commonly measured in the U.S. Nevertheless, the disparities are also linked with racism in access to care and to unacceptable and reactionary attitudes the medical profession brings to the treatment of black women.

A society truly concerned with health of its people would at the least ensure that all had the means to be seen regularly by medical specialists and screened for chronic diseases like cancer. It would work to counteract the health outcomes that result from every form of inequality. The system of for-profit healthcare in this country, and continuous cuts in government spending on public health, take society in the completely opposite direction.

Florida Governor Blocks Kids’ Covid Vaccination

Jun 20, 2022

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized both Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines for children under 5 and the Centers for Disease Control is expected to soon follow. The federal government allowed the states to pre-order doses of both vaccines to make available to pediatricians and pharmacies within their states.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and the head of Florida Department of Health, Joseph Ladapo, have chosen not to pre-order any doses from the federal government. Both have previously opposed vaccine requirements for adults and vaccines being given to older children.

While their decisions do not completely rule out doctors obtaining vaccines for their patients, it will make it much more difficult and slow down the process of delivering the vaccines to the youngest children in the state.

In defending his decision, DeSantis said, "I would say we are affirmatively against the Covid vaccine for young kids. These are the people who have zero risk of getting anything."

This claim of his, however, is false.

While it is true that children represent only a small proportion of those in the U.S. who have died from Covid, there have been over 1,000 children who have died. There have also been 13.5 million children infected in the U.S., including at least close to 600,000 in Florida. While their risk of death may be low, children who get infected are at risk of long Covid, which they can carry with them longer than any other victims. Kids can also spread the disease to adults around them.

Individual politicians can have whatever beliefs they might hold, but if individuals like these can interfere with the delivery of a proven method of preventing the ongoing spread of a deadly disease that shows how capitalism stands in the way of public health.

Tampon Shortage:
Capitalism’s Fault

Jun 20, 2022

There is a tampon shortage?! There are reports of women having to drive around town to several stores to get tampons to last them through their period. On top of finding baby formula, mothers have to find tampons. Tampons are an essential part of feminine hygiene. The use of tampons allows women to be involved in social life regardless of their menstruation cycle.

Companies and economic experts blame the shortage on COVID, staffing shortages, inflation, and the war in Ukraine. The spokesperson of Procter & Gamble (P&G), the owner of Tampax, even blamed the shortage on their own advertisement with comedian Amy Schumer.

None of these excuses hold water. The companies that produce tampons are giant monopolies. They are more than capable of producing enough to meet demand. Over half the world’s tampons are produced by P&G, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and Edgewell. P&G single-handedly controls 29% of the global market, and 50% of the U.S. market.

However, all this control over the market lets them squeeze more out of us in their mad race for profit. Since last year, these companies have increased the price of tampons by 10%. These are highly profitable companies. Last year P&G made $17 billion in profit. Flushed with cash, P&G gave their shareholders $21.9 billion in stock buybacks and dividends.

The need for these hygiene products is essential, but we are captive to the capitalists’ self-interested decisions. The capitalists manipulate our lives by raising prices and creating shortages in their drive for profit.

Pages 10-11

Inflation at a 40-Year High, Good Paying Jobs Disappearing—It’s a Crisis for Working People

Jun 20, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of June 13, 2022.

Inflation jumped up again this month—but this economic system has no relief for working people. Nor does its political system.

In March, Biden promised that inflation would soon start to come down. Instead, it got worse. In April, May and June, prices went up, each month higher than the month before. Government-calculated prices now stand almost nine percent higher than they were a year ago. It’s the highest rate in more than 40 years.

It’s worse when it comes to all the things working people have to pay for every week: food, housing costs, gasoline, transportation costs—in other words, the basics.

Inflation isn’t some benign statistical line on a government chart. Inflation is exactly the same as a wage cut. Our wages buy less this month than last month, and much less than the year before.

Inflation isn’t some accident either. It’s what happens when corporations make a calculated decision to raise their prices, aiming to push up profits.

It’s also the result of government policies that flooded the corporations and banks with trillions of dollars, aiming to let the profit-making system go on making profit.

Those policies continued, no matter who was in office, Republican or Democrat, Trump or Biden.

Inflation is the result. And it is not the only problem. The economy is a mess. There are 800,000 fewer jobs today than there were before the pandemic hit in 2020. The share of working-age adults with a job is smaller today than it was before the 2008 recession.

This is an economy that doesn’t work for working people. And its political system—based on these same two old parties—doesn’t serve working people either.

Now with elections coming up, the two parties will fill the media with campaign slogans and attacks on each other. It’s nothing but a diversion. Concentrate on the crisis we face.

There are simple, direct answers to this crisis. Provide a decent paying job for everyone who wants to work. Immediately push up wages so every job provides a decent living. Tie our wages and pensions directly to prices, so they go up as much as prices go up—and immediately.

Does that sound like an impossible dream? Maybe in this society it does, with the capitalist class in control, deciding how many jobs to offer and what wages to pay.

But why should the capitalist class remain in control?

Working people make up the very large proportion of the population: in the big cities, in the near suburbs, in small towns, in rural areas.

Not only are we the majority. We occupy the workplaces, the very center of the economy. We make this economy run today with our muscles and brains. We could make it run tomorrow to serve the population. If the capitalist class and their politicians don’t want to provide all the jobs needed, we could lay our hands on their profits. If they don’t want to pay decent wages, we could take their companies away from them.

Again—an impossible dream? Well, yes, right now, with the working class quiet, waiting on the politicians to do something, letting the corporations decide how things should run.

But the working class, with its hold on the economy, has the power to make many impossible dreams come true.

Culture Corner—The Janes & The Devil’s Highway

Jun 20, 2022

Film: The Janes, 2022, documentary airing on HBO and streaming on HBO Max

The film documents what it was like before abortion was legalized with the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Because of the civil rights and antiwar fights, many women were radicalized and rejected their own oppression.

The Janes shows whole wards in hospitals exclusively for treatment of women who suffered complications from back alley abortions and exposes the high death rate. It lays bare how society treated pregnant women, and how it was worse for working class women who didn’t have the money to fly to areas where abortion was legal. Women without resources had to face greater risk of death, racism, over-policing, and be subject to profiteering by black market medicine.

The film shows women responding to these conditions by organizing for more humane conditions, safe access to health care and abortion, birth control and a respect for their unique needs. The film highlights the efforts of a small heroic group of women in Chicago from 1967 to 1973 to provide safe illegal abortions. It is horrifying to realize these awful conditions may be facing pregnant women in the near future, and how organizing efforts are needed again today.

Book: The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005

This book tells the story of 26 men and boys who tried to walk through the desert from Mexico into the United States. Only 12 survive. Rather than just telling a linear story, the author offers a kaleidoscopic view of the whole machine: the border patrol, Mexican gangsters, coyotes, Arizona, Texas, Vera Cruz, the Rio Grande, Sonora, and the eyeball-drying life-taking sweat-sucking scorching terrible devil’s highway itself. The book exposes the whole complicated picture of the crisis, lays bare the issues, the absurdities, the contradictions, and offers no easy solutions. Valuable reading about a crisis that gets worse by the day.

Page 12

Growing Far-Right Attacks on LGBT+ People

Jun 20, 2022

Far-right groups have recently disrupted school board meetings across the country to protest books in libraries that depict anything other than “traditional” gender norms. They have organized anti-LGBT+ demonstrations. There have already been more incidents of political violence targeting LGBT+ people this year than there were in all of 2021.

In early June, dozens of masked men organized by the far-right group Patriot Front piled into a U-Haul van in Idaho. Wearing protective gear and carrying metal poles, they were preparing to attack Pride in the Park, an event organized by the North Idaho Pride Alliance, according to the local police chief.

That same weekend, five men organized by the far-right Proud Boys stormed into Drag Queen Story Hour at a library near Oakland, California. The local sheriff’s office reported that they “shouted homophobic and transphobic slurs" in an attempt to break up an event where people in drag read storybooks to children.

These far-right thugs contend that Pride picnics and kids’ books about people who don’t conform to traditional gender norms “groom” children for sexual abuse. But there is no evidence that people who don’t conform to traditional gender norms are more likely to be abusers. In fact, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is carried out by “traditional” men, often members of the same “traditional family” as those they abuse.

In reality, these attacks have nothing to do with protecting children: they are instead part of a broader attempt to reinforce the oppression of women. These same forces are attacking the right to abortion, and many are even against contraception.

In the “traditional” society the far right glorifies, everyone has to be crammed into a box marked “man” or a box marked “woman” that defines what behaviors are acceptable. Women would continue to perform the lion’s share of the unpaid labor that makes society run: taking care of children and the elderly, cooking, and cleaning. In this “traditional” society, married women wouldn’t have the right to own property, including their own wages, or say no to sex with their husbands—both of which used to be the law in this country. In some far-right religious communities, young women are still raised to view themselves first of all as “helpmeets” for their future husbands, duty bound to obey the “head of the household.”

The organizations and politicians that promote these ideas are not just growing up spontaneously. The oppression of women and the enforcement of rigid gender norms have always been basic aspects of capitalist society. So, it should be no surprise that the far-right thugs who carry out these attacks are backed by big money and encouraged by the increasingly violent anti-LGBT+ and anti-feminist rhetoric coming out of mainstream right-wing politicians and media outlets.

No Real Gun Control

Jun 20, 2022

On June 11 there were demonstrations and rallies in hundreds of cities and towns all over the country calling for stronger gun control laws. These actions were triggered by the mass shootings at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Thousands rallied in Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Antonio, and hundreds of other places.

Under the pressure of these actions, a bi-partisan group of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic U.S. senators said they would propose new gun control measures. This was hailed as a momentous development since no bi-partisan Federal gun control legislation had been proposed for many years.

The bi-partisan group has now announced a “framework” for its proposals. So, what are they?

The legislation would encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws and expand background checks for people under 21 years old buying firearms. It promises billions of dollars for mental health treatment, most of which will go to huge pharmaceutical companies for profitably-priced drugs. But there are still differences on the exact language of the first two provisions.

“Red flag” laws now exist only in 19 states and the District of Columbia. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to ask a court to confiscate or bar an individual from having firearms if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others. Some senators object to this money not being available to states that now have no such laws.

The “boyfriend loophole” is also a bone of contention. Currently, people who have been convicted of domestic violence are barred from owning a firearm. But this only applies to a person who has married, lived with, or has a child with the victim. The gap in this policy is called the “boyfriend loophole” because it does not apply to people who are dating but don’t fall into the other categories. Senators disagree on which dating partners the restriction should apply to.

It’s not clear at this time if these outstanding issues can be resolved and these bi-partisan gun law changes approved. But even if these provisions are all approved, it will change very little in relation to gun control. It’s clear that this whole “momentous” gun control effort has been nothing but a theatrical performance by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to make it look like they really are trying to do something to reduce gun violence.

Search This Site